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Salina, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-If Dodge City Law head man Sean Ponder put out an advertisement for an assistant, he would have to exclude anyone with a heart condition. Saturday’s late-game drama just added to a season filled with heart-palpitating moments that might make it handy to have a cardiologist on staff.
Josh Floyd tossed a late touchdown pass to Brandon Venson, and Cashmin Thomas recovered an Ed Prince fumble in the final two minutes as the cardiac kids topped Salina 47-43 at the Bicentennial Center.
“This win is huge for us,” Ponder said as he tried to catch his breath after the game. “We keep finding a way to win games.”
And they did it in a place where the only late-game heroics being made during last year’s showdown was when Meshak Williams strip sacked Floyd and Brandon McKinney recovered the game-winning touchdown in the end zone. Oh how the fortunes were reversed in 2015.
Trailing 43-41 with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth, Dodge City (4-1) caught a break when Terry Strecker’s line-drive kick went out of bounds putting the ball at midfield. That set the stage for three critical third-down conversions that kept a pulse beating on the Law sidelines. The first of those came when Floyd called his own number and gained 12 yards to the Salina 12 on a third-and-9. Minutes later, Ponder’s club was staring at a third-and-1 at the 3 when Floyd scampered for two yards to move the chains. Three plays later it was third-and-goal from the four. That’s when improvisation set in.
“Josh makes plays and puts us in good spots,” Ponder said. “Nine times out of 10 he makes the right read.”
He did so when his team needed it the most. Floyd took the snap and dropped back. Initially, Salina’s (4-2) coverage was excellent; so he rolled to his right to buy some extra time. As he did so, Venson was dragging along the back wall trying to get open. Instead of forcing a pass like he did in San Angelo two weeks earlier, Floyd waited until the veteran receiver came free; then fired a laser that hit number nine right in the chest, touchdown!
“Some guys have it and some don’t; (Josh) Floyd has it,” Ponder said. “That was a great play.”
The two-point conversion attempt that followed failed when Floyd was picked off in the end zone by Isaiah Barfield, but the Law had the lead 47-43. Now it was once again up to the defense.
Salina quarterback Chris Coffin, who even at 39-years old can still sling it with the best of them, attacked the Dodge City secondary all game long. So it was to no one’s surprise that the journeyman signal caller fired 30 passes on Saturday night, yet he will only be remembered for one; it was his by far his most impressive.
With less than two minutes to play, the Bombers had just picked up a first down on Coffin’s 16-yard completion to Jared Elmore. Two plays later, Salina was facing a second-and-7 at the Dodge City 22. The Law called a blitz and appeared to have Coffin dead to rights. But the veteran spun off of two potential sacks and then dodged a third tackler before firing an underhand pass to Ed Prince. The offensive lineman turned eligible tight end began rumbling down the middle of the field with a first down and possible touchdown in his sights. Inexplicably the ball popped free, and Thomas pounced on it.
“I saw it and my eyes opened up,” Thomas said. “I was battling with Mark (Sterling) for it, and then thought about picking it up and running. But I thought better of that and figured I would let the offense handle their business.”
Thomas’s fumble recovery was followed up with a game-clinching first down, which came on an illegal defense call against Salina. Two Floyd kneel downs ensued, and the Law had dodged another bullet.
“We were challenged,” Thomas said. “But we did what had to be done. We knew he (Coffin) would throw it a lot. We read the scouting report. And I thought, for the most part, we did a pretty good job.”
Thomas was spot on. The proof: the Law held Coffin to just 161 yards through the air; his lowest output of the season. They also sacked him twice and ended one Salina drive when Justin Spruill intercepted Coffin in the end zone.
“We gave up some plays,” Ponder said. “But again, our defense stepped up when they had to. These guys fight until they end; they always do.”
Both teams squandered early scoring chances. Dodge City moved the ball to the 11-yard line on their opening drive. But a third-down incompletion and a fourth-down sack by Adam Davis ended that threat.
Salina took the ball and marched to the Law 8. But Coffin fired three straight incompletions, and Bob Ray’s team settled for Strecker’s 23-yard field goal.
Dodge City took the lead on their next possession. Carson’s 35-yard kickoff return set the Law up first-and-goal at the Salina 10. Three plays later, it was only fitting to see Carson plow in from a yard out to give the Law a 6-3 advantage (Alex Fambrough missed the extra point).
The Law extended the lead after Spruill picked off Coffin in the end zone. That eventually led to Floyd’s 30-yard touchdown strike to Maurice Young. Fambrough booted through the PAT, and Dodge City had a 13-3 cushion.
Salina was in danger of letting the game slip away early, and that became more evident when Jacorey Quarterman sacked Coffin on third down for a five-yard loss back to the Law 10. But the league’s leading passer persevered on fourth-and-7, hitting Attrail Snipes in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Strecker missed the extra point, but Salina had saved face-pulling to within four points.
After Carson’s six-yard run to pay dirt pushed the lead back to 11, Coffin answered the bell, driving his team 23 yards in just under four minutes-punctuating it with a one-yard rushing touchdown. The score made it 20-16 Dodge City with 3:06 remaining in the first half.
The teams traded scores in the final three minutes: Kingjack Washington raced in from six yards out for Dodge City before Coffin connected with O.J. Simpson for a 30-yard score that cut the Law lead to 27-23. It was the ninth scoring play of 20 yards or more allowed by Ponder’s defense this season.
Floyd made his only mistake of the night the next time Dodge City had the ball when Delaney Dobard picked him off late in the first half. But Salina could not capitalize after Strecker missed a 29-yard field goal in the final seconds of the second quarter.
The Bombers grabbed the lead back on their first possession of the third when Coffin hit Elmore on a five-yard slant. Dodge City answered nine plays later with Floyd’s eight-yard scoring strike to Jamie January. Fambrough’s extra point gave the Law a 34-30 edge with 5:54 left in the period.
Salina then capped off a time-consuming march with Elmore’s four-yard rushing touchdown giving the Bombers the lead back. It didn’t stick as Dodge City moved it 35 yards in 3:25 before Floyd dove in from one yard out.
“Our offense is pretty good,” Ponder explained. “Sometimes we stop ourselves, but we’re pretty dangerous when we’re clicking.”
Wide receiver Jeffery Cameron, who caught the game winning touchdown the week before against Texas, definitely agreed.
“When we’re right, I don’t care who it is, Wichita, Salina, Sioux City; if we’re hitting on all cylinders, we are very tough to beat.”
Coffin’s seven-yard touchdown pass to Elmore gave the Bombers their final lead with 9:55 to go in the game. On the drive, Salina converted two third downs; the second one went for six.
Floyd, who was named offensive player of the week after his six touchdown performance against Texas, finished the night 11-of-17 for 129 yards and three scores. He added 15 rushes for 24 yards and a touchdown. Carson carried it 16 times for 51 yards and two scores while Venson hauled in four balls for 42 yards.
Salina totaled 68 yards on the ground, their second highest total all season. Quentin Benning gained 41 yards on four carries. Elmore had four totes for 23, including a touchdown. He also caught seven balls for 70 yards and two scores.
Bombers linebacker Clarence Bumpas recorded a game-best 16 tackles.
Notes: Law receiver Delo Davis didn’t play in the game because he was serving a one-game suspension for throwing a punch in Dodge City’s win over Texas…After allowing nine negative plays against Texas, the Law surrendered only three, including two sacks…Dodge City was 8-of-13 on third-down conversions and held the ball for 30:57…The 229 yards given up was the second lowest allowed by the Law defense this season…Floyd completed passes to five different receivers…Dodge city has rushed for 100 yards or more in four out of their five games
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